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November 01, 2002 - Image 38

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-11-01

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Wandering Washingtonians

T C.

Washington, D.
he U.S. capital has never felt
like a Jewish city. The archi-
tect Pierre L'Enfant designed
it to appeal to all
Americans, but the marble monu-
ments and carved busts evoke a dis-
tinct breed of founding father, and we
don't mean Abraham, Isaac or Jacob.
The droves of young Jews who
annually migrate to Washington do
not seem to mind. Like most young
people, they come to live politics,
learn about government or simply
network for a better tomorrow.
Along the way, they may eat bagels
at Krupin's Deli or sidle up to
Hadassah Lieberman at a low-dollar
fund-raiser, but Jewish observance
takes a back seat. If you ask them to
gather the elders to commune, they're
more likely to organize a quorum
than a minyan.
Of course, 20-somethings are not
exactly the most observant age group
regardless of the city. Any Jewish
mother can tell you that even an ideal
Jew, (see the Passover Haggadah's
"Good Son"), has an interest that
waxes and wanes.
There are bar or bat mitzvah spikes,
late-teen declines, a renewed focus dur-
ing child rearing, and a complete and _

Risa Heller of West Bloomfield is a
Washington publicist. Ari Melber of

Seattle is a legislative aide on Capitol
Hill. Both are graduates of the University
of Michigan in Ann Arbor. This com-
mentary first appeared in the Washington
Jewish Week newspaper.

passionate recommitment to God
shortly before death. So 24-year-olds
across the nation may not be at the top
of their religious game, but that's no
excuse for these new Washingtonians.
So what gives? How does such a
promising cohort of educated, ambi-
tious Jews end up disappointing so
many grandmothers?
Because D.C. Judaism has two
strikes against it: politics and lack of
Marx (as in Karl) claimed that "reli-
gion is the opiate of the masses,"
which always left us doubting our
rabbi's potency. But in Washington,
people get their fix from politics, and
it often supplants religion.
A young pol is immersed in a pro-
fessional and social community that is
as strong and connected as a congre-
gation. Unlike most jobs, political co-
workers tend to share a set of beliefs
and ideologies.
They sacrifice and work together to
act on their moral convictions, engen-
dering strong bonds and a sense of
order. When these goals are achieved,
they, are less likely to then seek out
similar experiences at synagogue.
Before they realize it, their only
event remotely related to Judaism is
keeping up with Ari Fleischer's daily
White House press briefing or Senator
Joe Lieberman's latest campaign stop
in his not-so-subtle run for president.

Community Lacking

The other detractor for District tribe
members is the lack of a fixed corn-

Many settle on style
munity since there
over substance in the
are few bona-fide
meantime. Mezuzot,
Washingtonians and
summer Israel photos
therefore, for many, a
and Seinfeld are sup-
gaping hole where
posed to suffice.
family is concerned.
Some even see their
Even those Jews
religion like an exotic
with the most super-
hobby — to be pur-
ficial observance
sued someday if they
practices like to
can find the time. But
engage in the ceremo-
Special Commentary
no matter how fulfill-
nial dipping of apples
ing (or exhausting)
in honey, the recita-
work may be, and even if it's a short
tion of the Four Questions or the
stop on a long ride, we can do more
spirited reading of Megilat Esther.
than following Debra Messing and. the
They like to complain about the smell
Beastie Boys.
of fried potatoes and onions that
In a city obsessed with church and
seems to linger around the house for
state, too many young
weeks after Chanukah.
Washingtonians are separating them-
It is not until the move to
selves from synagogue, as well. With
Washington that so many young Jews
the High Holidays behind us, most
are brutally reminded that all bubbies
young D.C. Jews will have completed
don't share their recipes for matzah-
their obligatory annual nod toward
ball soup, and that the idiosyncrasies
the bimah and wait until next year to
of family holidays that make them
atone for another season of not
uniquely yours, well, just don't follow
observing, not attending, and too
you across the country.
often, not even noticing.
When it comes to appealing ways to
Will these unengaged Jews fall prey
observe, in establishment cities like
to the taboos whispered at holiday
New York, L.A. and Boston, myriad
dinners? Will they stop observing hol-
minyanim cater to families, students
idays altogether and, God forbid,
and young professionals. But here,
marry outside the tribe? Does the dis-
families come and go like presidential
trict without voting rights lead to a
life without Judaism?
And young people move on even
We hope not. Perhaps there is a
quicker, either back to school or on to
Jewish equivalent to voter outreach to
other cities for more permanent
connect these wandering Yidden.
careers. If people have a future "family
From the desert to the diaspora, and
synagogue" in the mind's eye, it is
now the District, we do have a knack
usually somewhere else, so they figure
for persistence. ❑
that observance can wait until then.

Will The World Wake Up Too Late?


he destruction of the twin
towers in New York, the
attack on the Pentagon, the
bombing in Bali, the dead-
ly suicide assaults in Israel, the
extreme violence in the Philippines,
the attempt at mass murder by the
Chechnya Muslims, the anarchic
killings of non-Muslims in numerous
Asian and African countries — now
leave no doubt that the world is con-
fronted by an unmistakable clash of
civilizations, with extreme Islam


Carl Alpert is a U.S. native who made

aliyah in 1952 He is former head of the
Zionist Organization of America's edu-
cation department. E-mail•



lined up against the West, against
Hindus and even against China.
Attempts to battle these assaults
on a purely local basis lose sight of
the fundamental, historic challenge
with which we are confronted.
We are told that history repeats
itself and those who ignore its les-
sons are destined to repeat it. The
record is clear for all who wish to see
and learn and understand, then react
as required.
The barbarians of the past went by
different names, but their goals were
similar. At different periods they
were known as the Vandals, the
Huns, the Mongols. They produced
leaders like Attila and Genghis
Khan, who sought to destroy what
we have come to call Western civi-

established a rule that
from Central Asia
Edward Gibbon, the British
to the Rhine and then
historian who meticulously
sought to destroy the West.
recorded The Rise and Fall of
He invaded Gaul and sacked
the Roman Empire, pondered
most of the towns of France
whether civilization might
before being defeated in a
ever again undergo a similar
bloody battle at Troyes.
he turned east
He wrote: "The savage
nations of the world are the
common enemies of civilized
Sp ecial
society, and we may inquire
Com mentary us that in the 13th century;
the Mongol dynasty extend-
with anxious curiosity
ed from China into India
whether Europe is still threat-
and then proceeded on a trail of sav-
ened with a repetition of those
age and bestial conquest into Russia
calamities" which sealed the fate of
and Western Asia — stopped only by
the Egyptian army in Palestine in
Well might he ask.
There were indeed attempts. With
No historian has forgotten that less
ruthless brutality, Attila of the Huns

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